“there needs to be a way for managers to virtually come up to employee’s desks and ask them non-urgent questions while they’re working on something important.”
For many people work in 2020 has become a bit of a "zoom Groundhog Day". Irrespective of: where we are working; how busy we are; or how interesting the problems are that we are solving; or the connection we have to the purpose; our work routines feel repetitive and at times monotonous. A number of colleagues and clients have commented that the way work is currently structured makes it really difficult to create the serendipitous conversations that we experience in face to face work. Discoveries in Thomas Edison's laboratory occurred when existing but previously disconnected ideas were blended. Readers would be aware that varied conversations and interactions with colleagues, stakeholders and customers not only break the monotony, but increase our luck. In addition, Chip and Dan Heath found that many of the techniques that break the monotony of work have the added benefit of shifting an event from ordinary to extraordinary. (For more detail please see my previous blogs on luck and the power of moments) Whilst it seems rather bizarre to write about how to orchestrate varied connections and events into your work day, sometimes we do need to plan for serendipity. Here are some ideas to get you started:
During existing meetings break the script.
Allow more time for informal conversation in your team meetings. When you notice the team are chatting about their weekend, or their favourite soccer team, just let it continue. It seems really simple, but it enables an opportunity for the more human connections that usually occur in as people physically walk into a room.
Pair up your team for informal chats. Either select people randomly or deliberately put together those who haven’t spoken for a while then send them into online breakout rooms for about 10 minutes. As a prompt recommend they ask each other “What has been going on for you?” and encourage conversation about life and or work or both.
Invite an internal expert to share how they effectively communicate with peers via technology.
The arrival of new employee, team anniversaries, or birthdays, are typically marked in the face to face office environment. So delegate these types moments to people who do not normally work together and challenge them to think of creative ways to elevate them.
“Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be authors of them.”
Chip and Dan Heath
Proactive individual connections:
Schedule, one-on-one, recurring, non work calls to your team, colleagues, peers or stakeholders.
Invite someone who you have never worked with, perhaps from a different department, to join in on an interesting work call.
Recommend a new employee for a cross functional project.
Proactively solicit input from junior people in strategic planing to gain their perspective on the industry.
Go out on a limb, and hold a business meeting on Grand Theft Auto, or Minecraft.
Play some games like run an employee lottery; the winner is awarded a virtual lunch or coffee date with the CEO.
Initiate virtual "blind dates" where you randomly pair people across divisions.
Look for a team or organisation wide challenge that is fun and aligned with a cause or value that matters to you.
Please be mindful that some of these ideas may not suit you, or your workplace. I hope at best they will spark your imagination and creativity, and worst they will remind you to just have some fun.
That's all they really want Some fun When the working day is done Oh girls, they wanna have fun Oh girls just wanna have fun
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindi Lauper (1983)
Please email me with other ideas that you have tried.
Hargadon, A. and Sutton, R.I. (1997). Technology Brokering and Innovation in a Product Development Firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(4), p.716.
Heath, D. and Heath, C. (2019). The Power of Moments. Random House Uk.